81: The Highwayman

81: The Highwayman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

The Highwayman

Story by Jimmy Webb

Song written by Jimmy Webb

Recorded by The Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson)

“The Highwayman” was written after a vivid dream experience that I had. It was very unusual. I don’t go around writing songs about my dreams very often. I woke up, and there happened to be a piano in the room with me, and I just went over and wrote the first verse about The Highwayman. Then the idea came to me that this guy, for whatever reason, would live more than one lifetime, and I would weave his soul through these different lives.

I loved it, and it charged me immediately with a lot of energy. It creates a lot of space and time to work in, which is what you are looking for whenever you’ve only got three minutes to tell a story.

Willie and Waylon and Kris went to help out on a Johnny Cash record that he recorded when he was ill. Glen Campbell was in Nashville helping out with that project and he was in the studio, and it was my understanding that he played the song for them first. This was really where the Highwaymen were born.

I’m not sure how they decided to later name their album and the foursome “The Highwaymen.” I can only say it was a big deal for me. It was a big injection into my career.

It is another strophic song, like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” It’s a true ballad with the three verses and the story contained with no traditional chorus, and it later won a Grammy for 1985. I remember Waylon, when he heard it was being nominated for Country Song of the Year, being surprised and saying, “Which country is that?”

The Highwayman

I was a highwayman. Along the coach roads I did ride

With sword and pistol by my side

Many a young maid lost her baubles to my trade

Many a soldier shed his lifeblood on my blade

The bastards hung me in the spring of twenty-five

But I am still alive.

I was a sailor. I was born upon the tide

And with the sea I did abide.

I sailed a schooner round the Horn to Mexico

I went aloft and furled the mainsail in a blow

And when the yards broke off they said that I got killed

But I am living still.

I was a dam builder across the river deep and wide

Where steel and water did collide

A place called Boulder on the wild Colorado

I slipped and fell into the wet concrete below

They buried me in that great tomb that knows no sound

But I am still around...I’ll always be around...and around and around and around and around

I fly a starship across the universe divide

And when I reach the other side

I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can

Perhaps I may become a highwayman again

Or I may simply be a single drop of rain

But I will remain

And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again.

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